One of my favorite wildlife conservation biologists I follow on Instagram is Sean McHugh. His incredible game camera captures of the rarest, most endangered neotropical wildlife caught my eye- spectacled bears, tayra, jaguars and short-eared dogs! Currently Sean is having a blast working for the Bergeron Everglades Foundation in southern Florida. He has captured footage of countless amazing species, such as Florida panthers, in this endangered ecosystem. Recently he sent me some awesome footage of Florida black bears engaging in mating season behavior very similar to that of the coastal Alaskan brown bears that I have worked with for over 20 years.
In the below video, which Sean allowed me to share, you can see bears during the summer mating season marking their presence on marking trees. The first bear, which stands an impressive 7.2 feet tall, and weighs approximately 600 pounds, claws and chews the tree as high as he can reach, in an effort to intimidate other bears by showing its strength, size and motivation to be dominant. The next clip shows a female bear, and a huge male come into the frame, and rubs himself on the marking tree. This is classic, rarely observed bear mating behavior.
I remember in the late 1990’s when I was just beginning my career as a bear viewing guide in katmai National Park. I would find random trees along well worn bear trails that showed heavy wear by bears scratching, rubbing and biting. These damaged spruce trees exuded sap, and we postulated that maybe they were using the sap as insect repellent- but we really didn’t know what was going on. After years of observation it became clear that these trails were mating season pathways used almost entirely by mature males. These bears would step in the same steps as preceding bears, eventually, after hundreds of years and thousands of bears, creating deep impressions in the soil. We now believe the bears, which have their own urine on their feet which defines their individual scent, step on the footsteps of competitors as a way of intimidation and dominance display. When these bears encounter a well used marking tree, they rub their scent high up to show off their size, and bite the trunk to display their power.
Sometimes there are no tree along these trails, so the bears will instead use a log for the same purpose. Check out this video I edited and narrated showing a huge male use an old driftwood log as a marking tree. I then explain the importance of urine in bear communication.
This indirect communication behavior is very important to avoid potential physical conflicts, which can be very dangerous! Bears never want to risk a fight with a competitor that is likely to win, as serious injuries can ensue. Here are a few bear fights when neither bear could be intimidated.
I was stunned to see the sheer mass of the bears Sean captured. Due to mild short winters, and ample food sources, Sean says, Florida black bears are among the largest in North America. Amazing work once again by Sean McHugh! The Everglades is such a treasured and unique ecosystem, but has faced so much pressure from human caused habitat destruction. I am glad Sean is there to help the Bergeron Everglades Foundation to advocate and educate for and study this precious resource.
Keep exploring and conserving!